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    Are You at Risk for Breast Cancer?

    (continued from Are You at Risk for Breast Cancer - Page 1)

    Risk factors can be environmental, biological, or based on activities that you can change. Knowing your risk gives you the chance to change what you can and reduce the possibility that you will have to face a breast cancer diagnosis. Here are the risk factors that are known at this time. Click on the links for a more in depth discussion of these issues.

    • What sex are you?
      The simple truth is that men get breast cancer, but far less often than women. A report by Eva R. Glazer, M.D., M.P.H. giving statistics in California from 1988 through 1992 states, "Among the 86,142 invasive breast cancers diagnosed in men and women during that time, 0.6% were in men. During the same period of time, 112 California men died from breast cancer, less than 0.1% of all male cancer-related deaths." Simply being a woman increases your breast cancer risk.
    • How old are you?
      Statistically, if you're under 40 your risk of developing breast cancer is low - but remember this is based on the average. Other factors may increase or decrease your risk. Breast self exams, a healthy diet and exercise are a good idea at any age.
    • For women:
      • What was your age when you first menstruated?
        Women who had their first menstrual period before age 12 have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. The levels of the female hormone estrogen change with the menstrual cycle. Women who start menstruating at a very young age have a slight increase in breast cancer risk that may be linked to this longer lifetime exposure to estrogen.
      • Do you have children?
        Each preganancy lasts about nine months. During that time your hormones do not maintain the same levels as non-pregnant women. It is thought that having a full term pregnancy causes the breast tissue to "mature" and decreases the chance that a tumor will occur. The more children you have, the lower your risk of breast cancer.
      • At what age did you have your first child?
        For the same reasons, women who had their first full term pregnancy after age 30 and women who have never borne a child have a greater risk of developing breast cancer.
      • If you have children, did you breastfeed?
        The conclusion that can be drawn from researching the literature is that taken with all of the various genetic and environmental factors that influence a women's risk of developing breast cancer - breast feeding certainly does not increase the risk -- and long term breast feeding may, in fact, reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. One warning for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer is that breast feeding seems to increase the speed at which a tumor grows. Some advocates of breast feeding recommend breast feeding anyway. The bulk of the professional literature tends to discourage breast feeding for women who have breast cancer or who have had breast cancer.
      • Did you have your ovaries surgically removed while in your mid- to late-30s?
        The ovaries are the producers of estrogen - the hormone most often linked to the growth of breast tumors. Having your ovaries removed reduces your breast tissue's exposure to estrogen and lowers your risk.
      • Have you had one or both breasts removed to prevent cancer?
        A prophylactic mastectomy means removing a breast to prevent this disease. Some people who have had breast cancer in one breast or who are at high risk of breast cancer due to genetic mutations in the BReast CAncer (BRCA) genes, have decided to undergo this procedure. Studies report that the incidence of breast cancer is much lower. Most women who have had the procedure say that they are very happy with their decision.
      • Do you take oral contraceptives or estrogen-containing hormone replacement?
        Use of these products has been linked to increased breast cancer risk. The oral contraceptives in use now have a lower estrogen content and are thought to be safer than the original formula. Remember, not using contraception usually results in pregnancy which has its own heath risks.
      • Do you drink alcohol?
        If you're worried about your risk of breast cancer - do not take a drink to calm yourself. Many studies have suggested that alcohol may be a factor in breast cancer. There is disagreement on the amount that will create an increased risk. If you do drink, try to stick to red wines and dark beers.
    • What is your race/ethnic background?
      This is a complicated subject in breast cancer as in a lot of other areas. There are all sorts of studies that show that where you live, what nationality you are and what race you belong to has an effect on your risk of getting breast cancer. African-American women tend to get breast cancer less than Caucasians. However, the mortality rate is higher for black women with breast cancer than it is for white women. The same figures apply to men, but the studies are far fewer since the disease is not as common in men.
    • How many members of your immediate family have had breast cancer?
      Having one or more first-degree blood relatives (parent, child, brothers or sisters) who have been diagnosed with breast cancer increases a your chances of developing this disease.
    • How many members of your extended family -- that is, aunts, cousins or grandmothers -- have had breast cancer?
      Remember to count your fathers side of the family, too. Genes come from both parents and genetic predisposition to breast cancer comes along with the genes. If you have a large number of relatives with breast cancer, you may have a genetic predisposition to the disease. If you are really concerned, there are counselors who will perform an analysis of your DNA and let you know if you do have any of the genetics markers that indicate an increased risk. If you do, there are many options to increase your odds of preventing or surviving breast cancer. You should have any genetic testing done with a reputable counselor available to discuss the results. Remember - breast cancer is not a death sentence!
    • Have you had any breast biopsies?
      A biopsy is the removal of a sample of tissue or cells for a pathologist to examine under a microscope to check for cancer cells. Women who have had breast biopsies have an increased risk of breast cancer, especially if the biopsies showed a change in breast tissue known as 'atypical hyperplasia'. These women are at increased risk because of whatever breast changes prompted the biopsies. Biopsies do not cause cancer. Changes in the breast tissue that are often precancerous creates the need for a biospy.
    • What is your BMI?
      Check here for a BMI calculator.
      BMI is Body Mass Index. It is a number assigned to the percentage of your weight that is fat.

      Everyone needs some fat, anorexia is the result of not having any. The best range is 18 - 22. The closer your BMI is to this range, the less risk you have for a multitude of diseases - including breast cancer.

      A BMI over 26 indicates a very large proportion of body fat and the need to get rid of some of it to lower your health risks. The theory is that fat tissue stores estrogen, the more fat the more estrogen. The more estrogen the higher your risk of breast cancer. Where the fat is located is also important. Not just for grown women but for young girls, as well.

      Young girls with a large amount of fat in their hips (pear shaped), may begin to menstruate earlier. Girls with abdominal fat are more likely to have higher levels of insulin and and growth hormone. This may raise the levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). IGF-1 has been linked to the growth of breast tumors.
    • How often do you exercise?
      For most of us, exercise is a good thing. It helps burn excess calories and keeps that BMI in a healthy range. For anyone concerned with lowering their risk of breast cancer, it is mandatory. Most studies of women who exercised reported reductions in the risk of developing breast cancer, some as high as 60%.
    • How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you eat per day?
      Studies show that increasing your servings of fruit and vegetables reduces your risk of cancer -- all cancer, but especially breast cancer. Plant foods have high levels of antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C, E, and the mineral selenium, all of which can prevent cell damage that may lead to cancer.
    • Do you eat red meat?
      This one is still being debated. The rule of thumb is that if there's a chance that it may increase your chances of getting breast cancer - it's good to err on the side of caution. Most experts recommend reducing your consumption of red meat if you are currently eating a normal Western diet. You don't have to eliminiate red meat from your diet, just reduce the portions of meat. Fill up on the side dishes - which, hopefully, will be lots of fruits and vegetables.
    • Have you ever been exposed to significant radiation?
      The connection between radiation and cancer is dependent on the radiation dose and the age at which you were exposed. Those age 19 and younger are at highest risk. The dosage of radiation received during most modern therapies, including mammograms, is not high enough to cause harm. However, the high doses that were given to children with scoliosis and Hodgkin's disease up to 15 years ago have been linked to breast cancer in adults. Although some believe that any radiation is dangerous, like red meat it is not necessary to completely eliminate all radiation. There is a fair amount of radiation that occurs naturally in the environment. The amount of radiation from a mammogram is less than you would be exposed to at the beach or on a picnic.
    • Annual mammograms have not been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

    Now that you know what the risk factors are, use this simple screening tool to find out what your risk is: Breast Cancer Calculator

    (Back to Are You at Risk for Breast Cancer - Page 1)

    Last updated April 21, 2017



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